Cockney Rebel leader Steve Harley dies, aged 73

Steve Harley onstage
(Image credit: Steve Harley)

Cockney Rebel frontman Steve Harley has died, aged 73. The singer and songwriter reportedly passed away at his Suffolk home one month after pausing his latest run of live dates for ongoing cancer treatment.

A post on Harley's website at the time read, "'Due to on-going treatment for cancer, Steve cannot commit to any concerts in 2024.  Steve is hoping next year will be altogether different. He appreciates all your kind words and good wishes. Team SH."

Harley's daughter Greta released the following statement from his family this morning: "We are devastated to announce that our wonderful Husband and Father has passed away peacefully at home, with his family by his side. The birdsong from his woodland that he loved so much was singing for him. His home has been filled with the sounds and laughter of his four Grandchildren. 

"Stephen. Steve. Dad. Grandar. Steve Harley. Whoever you know him as, his heart exuded only core elements. Passion, kindness, generosity. And much more, in abundance. 

"We know he will be desperately missed by people all over the world, and we ask that you respectfully allow us privacy to grieve."

After initially trying out a career in journalism, from which he was dismissed for growing his hair long and refusing to wear a tie, Harley's early musical forays were in folk music, and he joined the live folk circuit appearing alongside the likes of John Martyn, Julie Felix and Ralph McTell.

He rose to prominence with Cocknety Rebel, who formed in 1972 and whose original line-up also featured current 10cc drummer Stuart Elliott, who would also work with The Alan Parsons Project, Kate Bush and Al Stewart, and would later feature Family's Jim Cregan.

Although often cited as a glam rock band, Cockney Rebel's music stretched way beyond the confines of the genre tag, often incorporating progressive rock and art rock into their sound. Signed to EMI Records, Cockney Rebel's 1973 debut album The Human Menagerie featured the single Sebastian, which was a big hit in Europe, but failed to chart in the UK. That changed with the release of 1974's Psychomodo album, produced by Harley and Alan Parsons and which featured the hit single Mr. Soft.

1975's The Best Years Of Our Lives, also produced by Harley and Parsons, featured Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me) which hit the UKJ Number One spot and would go on to sell over a million copies, making the band a household name.

Cockney Rebel initially split in 1977, with Harley releasing his debut solo album, Hobo With A Grin, in 1978. He appeared alongside Peter Gabriel as a special guest on Kate Bush's 1979 Tour Of Life at one of the Hammersmith Odeon. shows, and also sang on T-Rex's Dandy In The Underworld single, on The Alan Parson's Project's I Robot and Rick Wakeman's 1984.

Although he never replicated the 70s chart success of Cockney Rebel, Harley remained a hard-working live musician, both solo and with new Cockney Rebel line-ups and had a strong following throughout Europe. He returned to the UK charts singing the title track, alongside Sarah Brightman, of Andrew Lloyd Weber's The Phantom Of The Opera in 1986, and in 1988 sang on the Mike Batt charity fundraising single Whatever You Believe alongside Jon Anderson.

In 2009 Harley was recognised for his charity work with a special Childline Rock Award at the Classic Rock Awards ceremony at London's Park Lane Hilton. He continued to tour prolifically and released Stranger Comes To Town in 2010 and Unciovered in 2020.

He is survived by wife Dorothy and children Kerr and Greta.

Jerry Ewing

Writer and broadcaster Jerry Ewing is the Editor of Prog Magazine which he founded for Future Publishing in 2009. He grew up in Sydney and began his writing career in London for Metal Forces magazine in 1989. He has since written for Metal Hammer, Maxim, Vox, Stuff and Bizarre magazines, among others. He created and edited Classic Rock Magazine for Dennis Publishing in 1998 and is the author of a variety of books on both music and sport, including Wonderous Stories; A Journey Through The Landscape Of Progressive Rock.